EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated to include the language of an amendment to the SATF recommendations passed by the messengers at the 2021 SBC Annual Meeting.
NASHVILLE (BP) – Southern Baptist Convention President Bart Barber has announced the members and leaders of those making up the Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force (ARITF).
Messengers to the annual meeting in Anaheim tasked Barber, pastor of First Baptist Church in Farmersville, Texas, with the responsibility as part of the approved recommendations from the Sexual Abuse Task Force, chaired by North Carolina pastor Bruce Frank. The recommendations were the result of a yearlong study and investigation by Guidepost Solutions into the SBC Executive Committee.
“The purpose of this task force is to assist the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention in our efforts to shut the doors of our churches to those who would act as sexual predators and to wrap our arms around survivors and those who love them,” Barber said.
In addition to the formation of the ARITF, the recommendations included the establishment of a “Ministry Check” website. The ARITF will oversee and report back to the Convention on the feasibility, effectiveness and costs of the website, which will be established and maintained by an independent contractor chosen by the task force.
Marshall Blalock, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Charleston, S.C., will serve as ARITF chair and Mike Keahbone, pastor of First Baptist Church in Lawton, Okla., will be vice chair. Others making up the task force are:
- Todd Benkert, pastor and lead elder of Oak Creek Community Church in Mishawaka, Ind.
- Melissa Bowen, member of First Baptist Church in Prattville, Ala.
- Brad Eubank, senior pastor of Petal First Baptist Church in Petal, Miss.
- Cyndi Lott, member of Catawba Valley Baptist Church in Morganton, N.C.
- Jon Nelson, lead pastor of Soma Community Church in Jefferson City, Mo.
- Jarrett Stephens, senior pastor of Champion Forest Baptist Church in Houston, Texas
- Gregory Wills, member of Travis Avenue Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, as well as professor of church history and Baptist heritage and dean of the School of Theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
“These task force members will be assisted in their work by a few consultants, whose names will be released later,” said Barber. He added that the consulting group would include survivors of clergy sexual abuse, pastors, lawyers, educators and one person who was the object of a false accusation of sexual abuse in the past.
“Every member of the task force is an active member of a Southern Baptist church, representing a wide variety of church sizes from several geographic areas within the Convention,” he said. “Some of the members are also providing leadership to task forces serving their various state conventions.
“Between the task force members and the various consultants, the task force discussions will feature the input of top experts in the subject matters of sexual abuse, the law, Southern Baptist history and polity, trauma-informed counseling and most importantly, the Bible.”
Per the recommendations, the ARITF is authorized to operate for one year, with messengers at subsequent annual meetings voting on whether to renew the group “as needed” and deliver a report each year of its existence. Barber will appoint any vacancies at the time as necessary.
Specific charges of the ARITF include:
- Study best practices in keeping with Southern Baptist church polity for feasibility and report back to the 2023 annual meeting on which reforms could be adopted by the Convention as well as how they should be implemented. Such recommendations include a survivor care fund, memorial, auditing the Caring Well curriculum and possibly creating a permanent committee or entity.
- Assist SBC entities in studying Guidepost recommendations and advise on implementing reforms relevant to each entity’s ministry assignment.
- Be a resource in abuse prevention, crisis response and survivor care to “Baptist bodies” who voluntarily seek assistance. This can include providing a list of recommended, independent, qualified firms for training and inquiries and assisting state conventions with recommendations, upon request.
- Consult with the SBC Credentials Committee for revising the evaluation and submission process to include complaints of noncooperation due to sexual abuse and publish the revisions.
- Work with the Executive Committee and Credentials Committee to select an independent, qualified firm or firms to assist the Credentials Committee by providing factual findings for complaints of noncooperation due to sexual abuse. The ARITF will report back to the 2023 annual meeting on the selection.
Messengers in Anaheim approved what was considered a friendly amendment to the first recommendation for the ARITF. Instead of operating through recommendations produced by Guidepost as in the original language, ARITF members would do so in accordance with “best practices in keeping with Southern Baptist church polity.”
On June 8, Send Relief announced it will be providing $3 million to fund the first year of work related to the SATF recommendations, with another $1 million toward the establishment of a survivor care fund to provide trauma care for survivors and trauma training for pastors.
The $3 million will come from Send Relief undesignated funds and not Cooperative Program, Annie Armstrong Easter Offering or Lottie Moon Christmas Offering funds, said Send Relief President Bryant Wright, International Mission Board President Paul Chitwood and North American Mission Board President Kevin Ezell in a joint statement.
The $1 million gift will come from Send Relief funds designated for its ongoing mission to protect children and families.
Whatever the ARITF produces, Barber said, will then be placed before Southern Baptists for a response. The ARITF will convene for an initial retreat with the outgoing Sexual Abuse Task Force before beginning its work.
“The authority to adopt the Task Force’s recommendations will rest with the messenger body of the Southern Baptist Convention,” Barber said. “The ability to apply the resources and recommendations that this process produces resides with the various autonomous churches that cooperate through the Southern Baptist Convention.
“We can only be successful as we earn their confidence and supply their needs. I am confident that this task force is well equipped to do just that.”
If you are/have been a victim of sexual abuse or suspect sexual abuse by a pastor, staff member or member of a Southern Baptist church or entity, please reach out for help at 202-864-5578 or [email protected]. All calls are confidential.